Alcopop marketing is legal, rules FTC

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Related tags: Federal trade commission, Ftc, Alcoholic beverage

The US Federal Trade Commission has found no evidence that
so-called 'malternative' alcoholic beverages are being marketed to
minors, according to an investigation prompted by a complaint from
an advocacy group.

The US Federal Trade Commission has found no evidence that so-called 'malternative' alcoholic beverages are being marketed to minors, according to an investigation prompted by a complaint from an advocacy group.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has blasted beer and spirits makers for targeting teens, sent study data to the FTC last year suggesting underage drinkers were three times more likely than adults to be aware of what it calls 'alcopops', and are twice as likely to have tried them.

Malternatives, the sweetened, malt-based drinks that range from Mike's Hard Lemonade to Smirnoff Ice, are one of the fastest-growing alcohol categories in the US, with nearly a dozen new brands set to pour into the marketplace this year.

The drinks have roughly the same alcohol-by-volume as beer, and in the United States, do not contain distilled spirits as they do in Europe.

In a letter on 3 June to the CSPI's George Hacker, author of the study, the FTC said that it has closed its investigation of the drinks after reviewing advertising, internal company marketing documents and retail placements in ten cities.

"We do not believe that the available malt beverages ... are targeted to minors,"​ FTC Director T. Howard Beales said in the letter. The commission noted unspecified "limitations" in the methodology of the CSPI's study.

The investigation did, however, "suggest the need for label improvements",​ Beales said. He noted that some drinks do not quantify their alcohol content or have "inconspicuous or unclear disclosure".​ The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which took part in the FTC probe, in April forbade labelling and advertising that suggest malternatives contain distilled spirits.

"We're disappointed the FTC is glossing over and ignoring this threat to young people,"​ the CSPI's Kimberly Miller said.

Drinks such as Diageo's market-leading Smirnoff Ice and the soon-to-launch Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola, jointly made by Brown-Forman and Miller Brewing, serve as "stealth advertising" for their namesake parent brands, she added.

Because they do not contain hard liquor, the drinks can be advertised on network television, and can be sold at retail outlets that sell beer but not liquor or wine.

Brown-Forman said last month it would shift most of its spirits-based Country Cocktails line to a malt base in the United States, following double-digit sales declines in the face of competition with malternatives.

Diageo, one of the companies questioned as part of the FTC investigation, stands by its marketing policies, said spokesman Gary Galanis. The company only advertises on television programmes with at least 70 per cent of viewers of legal drinking age, and includes a social responsibility message on underage drinking or drink driving with every ad.

"We don't put much merit in the (CSPI) survey or the data that the group provided to the FTC, and the FTC obviously saw through it as well,"​ he said. "We do not want the business of people under the age of 21."

Related topics: Market Trends

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